It's An Ordinary Day

It's the pile of laundry behind the door.
It's what's for dinner, what's for dinner, what's for dinner?
It's picking up the books, the textas, the scraps of paper, the toys, the clothes, the newspapers, the hat, the toothbrush, the breakfast bowl, the coffee cup, the footy scarf, the bandaid, the coins, the abandoned pyjamas.
It's what can I put in the lunches?
It's the washing machine jammed again.
It's making the beds.
It's unpacking the dishwasher; stacking the dishwasher; unpacking; stacking; unpacking.
It's the mud on the back verandah.
It's bucketing out the grey water. It's hanging out the clothes.
It's Mummy, can you...?
It's brushing hair, brushing teeth, scrubbing gunk off the basin.

It's noticing that the Happy Wanderer is in flower.
It's the lorikeets.
And the little one says, I'm going to make a present for my sister.
That's what it is.


A Real Job

I sometimes think that what I'd really like is a proper job. Not instead of writing, she adds hastily, but as a supplement -- an occasional job, a day or two a week perhaps, no more. My ideal job would be dull and repetitive, mechanical, fiddly, the kind of work that other people find impossibly boring.

When I worked at the record company, my favourite tasks were things like order entry, or alphabetising the CD library, or proof-reading the indent catalogue. Nothing made me happier than the arrival of a fat parcel of orders to be keyed from the affiliated video company, which meant I could sit quietly in a corner, not talking to anyone, working my way steadily through the pile. A nice defined job, poorly paid and tedious, that's my dream... If anyone happens to know of a job like that, I'm available!


Dear Diary

I kept a diary for many years. I still do, technically, though these days I only write in it a few times a year. To say "a diary" is misleading; it implies a single volume, like Arrietty's diary in The Borrowers, with one economical line used each day. But of course there were many volumes, beginning with a tiny book with a shy 70s girly on the cover, when I was nine, through tall impressive business diaries, ending with the fat black-and-red notebooks of my twenties and thirties, bursting with dried flowers, cinema tickets and other mementos.

I discovered my earliest diary recently when I was searching for New Guinea stuff. Flipping through it, you'd hardly know I was living in Mt Hagen. I wish I'd included more local colour; I wish I'd kept a list of the books I borrowed from the library (every few days: "went to the library," but hardly ever a mention of what I was reading.) I'd forgotten what an anxious child I was, always fretting about maths tests and whether I'd earn a Merit Card.

Some entries spark memories that would otherwise be lost: "Went to Siberia for a BBQ." Siberia was a block of flats in Mt Hagen, inhabited by other pilots. I'd forgotten what a busy social life we had -- lunch with the Blacks, the Herolds came, lunch at the Highlander Hotel -- but mostly I'm preoccupied with my own projects. I make a housepoints chart, make a boat, write to Rowena, make macrame and batik (it was 1976!), hold a meeting of the Flower Club. It's all school and squabbles with my friends and "my sister infuriates me." If we'd still been living in Ferntree Gully, I suspect my diary entries would have been almost identical.

There's only the odd hint that we're living in a foreign land. My teacher comes down with malaria. Dad flies us to Wewak on the coast for the weekend. "Went to Tanya's. Some native boys chased us." We hang out at the airport (where Dad worked), scrambling over sacks of coffee and playing with kittens in the hangar, and shop at the market (where the meris spread their produce on the ground and you have to walk gingerly to avoid betel spit.) "There was an attempted burglary. We couldn't get in" -- I guess because the lock was jemmied?

And there are things that make me catch my breath, because it's like seeing a premonition of my daughter captured on the page. "I made the Stone of Power..." Alice has three stones under her pillow: the Stone of Light, the Stone of Worries and the Stone of Rain and Darkness. And so we spiral round.


Love In the Time of Swine Flu

Outside, it's a crisp clear winter's day. The wattles are beginning to flower, the bushes sprinkled with miniscule bright yellow baubles. But we're all inside, trapped at home with various flu-y symptoms.
The girls are playing trains. Alice has decided her vocation is to be a diorama maker, or a model railway builder. She relished the construction of a dinosaur diorama for homework (see above, T Rex chowing down on its fallen prey in the shade of magnet-and-pipecleaner trees by the lagoon), and was enthralled by the dioramas at the War Memorial. Evie is acting out an elaborate saga involving her new Littlest Pet Shop cat, a supermarket and a load of coal. She insisted today on being dressed in "a jersey and skirt" like the Ballet Shoes girls. I know I should be making Alice read to me, but I'm nursing my vague aches and chills by the heater.
One third of Victorians may have swine flu. The streets are almost empty today, the playground strangely quiet. Alice coughs and wheezes. Her train wants to go to sleep.


Ballet Shoes

We taped the BBC telemovie of Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes last week (is that illegal?? oh well). The girls have been watching it on high rotation ever since (literally – I think we've played it twenty times in the past week).

They already know the story, thanks to an audio dramatisation that Alice got for Christmas, so they are a couple of steps removed from the book, but that will come. I have my well-thumbed and corner-nibbled copy waiting for them.

I loved all Noel Streatfeild's books but Ballet Shoes was my favourite. I read it over and over. It was so detailed, so rich and sprawling, that I felt I was living alongside Pauline, Petrova and Posy as they rushed from the Academy, to lessons with Drs Jake and Smith, from auditions to Mr Simpson's garage to backstage at the theatre. The panics over clothes and money, holidays and celebrations, the big old house filled with fascinating boarders, daily life in 1930s London, were all more vivid to me than my own life.

Ruth Gervis' delicate, lively illustrations forever fixed the Fossils in my mind. I was thrilled to discover, only recently, that Ruth was Noel's own sister, well-known to me as "Isobel" from Streatfeild's thinly fictionalised childhood memoir, A Vicarage Family (close second favourite to Ballet Shoes).

Streatfield handles family relationships superbly, and the family in Ballet Shoes is all the more striking for being thrown together by circumstance rather than blood, and also for being so dominated by women. The only significant men in the story are Mr Simpson, a benign uncle-figure and role model for mechanically-minded Petrova, and the absent Gum.

The TV adaptation is largely faithful to the broad brushstrokes of the story (apart from a love triangle between Theo Dane, Mr Simpson and Garnie, which I could have done without), and it was lovely to see the clothes and the house. It was a pity that Posy couldn't really dance, since she's supposed to be a ballet prodigy. It was the minute detail of practice routines, morning teas and performance licences that I missed. But then, that's what books are for.


The Thin Ice of Love and Hope

I've seen two films in less than a week - a record! (since children, anyway.) Both Australian, both wonderful, but very different.

Samson and Delilah
, recent winner of the Camera d'Or at Cannes, is a love story between two young Aboriginal people. It's confronting, beautiful, and it go to some very bleak places before it crawls out into the light again. Perhaps the most haunting element for me was the dull, distant, irregular ker-thunk of cars travelling over the bridge in Alice Springs, while under the bridge, out of sight and out of conciousness, Samson and Delilah struggle to get through another day, sinking into a seemingly hopeless haze of brutality and despair. When the light returns, it's like a miracle, but we know that the struggle for survival is far from won.

Michael and I went to see My Year Without Sex in our usual uniforms: me in my long cardie, Mikey in his jeans and hoodie top. From the moment Sacha Horler and Matt Day appeared in identical outfits, I knew this film was about us. Forks in the bedside drawer, nit treatments, the Bulldogs song, all the texture of my daily life was there. Another suburban Melbourne family, holding it together in the joyous, painful, precarious muddle of everyday life, skating on the thin ice of luck, one slip away from catastrophe, with only hope and love to haul us onward.

Ultimately both films are about the same thing, though the daily hurdles Samson and Delilah must negotiate are a hell of a lot higher than those faced by Natalie and Ross. But in the end, it's the power of connection that gives us all the strength to put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.

Generally speaking, I go to see films for the same reason I read books (though not nearly as often) - to see the world through someone else's eyes, to escape the prison of my own perceptions. Samson and Delilah certainly opened a window for me on the lives of young Australians who live, in every sense, a long way from where I do. But having said that, it was actually more unusual to see lives that so closely mirrored my own in My Year, and I loved it.

PS It was especially refreshing to see an adult film where the kids took up so much space, as people in their own right, not just ciphers or symbols or bit players in the drama, and not as precocious semi-adults either. Kirsty Murray once said she was sick of reading kids books where the parents weren't real people, and I think the reverse is also often true of adult books and films and particularly TV, where real kids are practically invisible. Remember when Rachel had her baby on Friends, and we never saw it again? Her mum was always minding it. Rachel's life went on exactly as before, apart from the cot and mobile in the background. Whereas any fule kno, in reality, kids turn your world inside out.


Guest Post

The sparkling Steph Bowe of Hey, Teenager of the Year! has kindly invited me to contribute a guest post to her blog. You can find me there, discussing the long and winding road to Cicada Summer - I'd forgotten just how long and winding it was until I started going back over my notes and all the false starts I'd made. It was fascinating (for me, anyway!) to see how many of those sidetracks have eventually led elsewhere. You might find it interesting too. Or not. Have a look if you like.


Deep Winter

According to my Aboriginal calendar, we're now in deep winter. This is one time where the Aboriginal calendar agrees with the European calendar (the European calendar for Australia, anyway). It's cold, it's wet, the seas are rough. Luckily we only have to put up with about six weeks of it before pre-spring arrives, hooray! (And the more rain we have, the better.)

Last weekend we went to Canberra. Canberra really knows how to do winter. Even when it's not actually raining, it's bone-freezing cold. We had a fabulous time, taking in the War Memorial (twice), a great game of football at an old-fashioned oval, the National Gallery and Questacon, as well as visiting an old mate of mine who has created an inspiring eco-garden in the suburbs, complete with reed-beds to filter her grey water and a dry creek bed that flows after heavy rain. She also grows delicious home-grown strawberries that explode with flavour. Mmm.

In other news, the Urgent Secret Collaborative Project is now finished! At least, the main creative part is finished; we still have to go through it together and tidy it up, but the writing is substantially done. Penni and I both felt a bit teary when it was done, and reluctant to let it go. Pen's blogging about it today so I won't say much more, but it was the most fun I've had writing for a long time. Though I'm looking forward to getting my friend back - for some reason, while we were communicating via the novel, we almost stopped communicating via other means. The less we spoke to each other, the better the writing went. Maybe we had to stay in character? Anyway, it was certainly an unintended consequence.

Ridiculous Footy Comment of the Week (2)
"The fans are among the most important stakeholders in the game."
- Caroline Wilson, Footy Classified, 1/6/09
Among the most important stakeholders? Gee, thanks for conceding that. If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? If a ball is kicked and no one's watching, is it a goal?